In a game-changing move toward sustainability, Japan hopes to produce medals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics using precious metals recycled from e-waste. What the country lacks in natural mineral resources, it plans to recover from obsolete smartphones, tablets and other consumer electronics.
Taking Steps toward a Sustainable Future
Environmentalists have been raising concerns about the rising costs of the Olympic Games, in terms of energy, transportation and natural resources alike. Facilities built for housing and competitions are often abandoned afterward, and in comparison, the impact of recycling metal for medals seems minimal.
The symbolic effect makes it worth it, according to the Olympic organizing committee. The Athletes who win gold, silver and bronze medals are celebrated in their home countries, displaying their medals with pride. By producing them from recycled e-waste, Japan hopes to maximize global, public visibility of the need for sustainable production.
Metal from x-ray plates, mirrors, solder and other waste were recycled for the 2016 Rio Olympics medals, but only accounted for 30% of the material used. For the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japan is aiming to produce medals with 100% recycled materials.
How is E-Waste Recycled?
E-waste recycling is the process of recovering usable material from electronics, household gadgets, vehicles and other discarded consumer waste.
- Certain rare earth metals and precious metals can be recycled from computers, smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices. These include gold, silver, platinum, nickel, cobalt, lithium and palladium.
- Rare earth and precious metals can also be found in refrigerators, air conditioners and other appliances, as well as scrap vehicles. These items may also contain base metals such as copper, iron, lead, or zinc.
- Along with scrap material from industrial waste, recycling companies either buy or collect e-waste for processing into usable material. After cleaning and sorting, special chemical recycling processes are used for separating metals.
What Are the Benefits of E-Waste Recycling?
Electronic waste and cell-phone recycling offer many benefits for the environment as well as the economy, such as:
- New Product Manufacturing – With proper collection, sorting and recycling processes, working parts of discarded consumer electronics can be used in new products. Precious metals, base metals, plastics and acids can also be reclaimed as raw material.
- Conservation of Natural Resources – Metals, fossil fuels and other natural resources are used as raw materials for new goods, but also consumed during processing, transportation and production. These are being depleted at an alarming rate, and we may soon run out.
- Less Toxic Waste – A lot of raw materials used in consumer electronics are toxic for the environment, so dumping e-waste into the waste stream raises the risk of ground and water pollution. Recycling lowers the ecological impact of items we use every day.
- Landfill Reduction – Landfills are a huge problem all over the world, and they are growing larger by the day. By reducing the amount of waste going into them, we can ensure that future generations won’t run out of usable land space currently taken up by our trash!
Can Japan’s Olympic Recycling Plan Work?
It remains to be seen whether the country’s plan for e-waste collection and recycling will provide the resources needed for the 2020 Olympic medals. Materials reclaimed through cell-phone recycling are already being used in the production of new electronics, so it may not be possible to reach the 100% recycled goal. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.
If you’re interested in metal recycling and want to improve the waste collection plan for your business, Northern California Compactors are here to help. Contact us to learn more now!